QNRF Newsletter Archive

QNRF announces first NPRP-EP award recipients

(L-R) Drs. Karsten Suhre and Joel Malek with a date palm
QNRF's National Priorities Research Program-Exceptional Program (NPRP-EP) has reached a critical stage with the announcement of its first award. Of six proposals so far reviewed, one has been chosen to receive US$4.5 million over a five-year period.

The awarded proposal, "Establishing world leadership in date palm research in Qatar," was submitted by Professor Karsten Suhre, Director of the Bioinformatics Core and Dr. Joel Malek, Director of the Genomics Core, both at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q). The proposal combines two innovative technologies that are well established at the college: genomics and metabolomics.

The interdisciplinary approach to date palm research is aimed to address major challenges in the field and involves a consortium of experts. Specifically, WCMC-Q is collaborating with Qatar's Biotechnology Center, the nation's Ministry of Environment, the Helmholtz Centre, Munich, Germany, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, and the European Institute for Research and Development.

Dr. Abdul Sattar Al-Taie, Executive Director, QNRF said: "The proposed research is considered to be highly innovative and has great potential to generate IP rights and patents, which will position Qatar as an international leader in date palm research with positive benefits in terms of fundamental innovation in applied biotechnology. It is also expected that the research outcomes will lead to opportunities for economic development and diversification in Qatar."

NPRP-EP is an extension of QNRF's flagship NPRP funding Program, which offers extra funding to proposals of exceptional scientific merit. The maximum budget for an awarded project is US$5 million over a period of up to five years.

The NPRP-EP solicits applications from scientists with exceptional ideas aimed at addressing key issues of national, regional or global interest. Application to the Program is open throughout the year. Lead principal investigators (LPIs) submit an Initial Research Proposal (IRP) containing information that will be presented to a panel of experts and stakeholders. This screening stage is followed, in successful cases, by full proposal submission and further peer review. Final review involves a scoring system and peer reviewer comment evaluation by a panel, members of which provide final recommendations.

Ms. Noor Al-Merekhi, NPRP Program Manager, added: "Proposals submitted for the NPRP-EP are expected to contain exceptional ideas and to be of great significance to Qatar, hence the panel-gating stage at the beginning. We currently have eight proposals in different research areas that passed the panel gating and are in the process of having their full proposals submitted to us."

"We are very excited about the research opportunities that are offered to WCMC-Q by this project, and in particular the confidence that QNRF puts into our team by awarding us this grant," Professor Suhre said.

"WCMC-Q has spearheaded date palm research in the past by determining its genome and identifying genetic markers for important physiological traits. Qatar is probably one of the rare places in the world where you can translate know-how between initially very distant fields and cross-pollinate ideas from human health research to plant genetics and back," he said.

Dr. Malek said the goal of the project was to better understand date palm biology and link the genetics of the date palm to date palm characteristics such as fruit color, flavor and ability to resist disease or environmental stress.

He said it was an exciting time for researchers at WCMC-Q and that the latest acquisition of funds would "go a long way towards contributing to the development of new information." 

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